With all of life’s modern conveniences, it’s easy to forget how to do things the old-fashioned way. Take fishing, for example. Unlike most of Grandma and Grandpa’s contemporaries, today’s anglers can stop by the local Wal-Mart, bait shop or sporting goods store when they need live bait for tempting their favorite fishies. That’s a good thing because most modern fishermen don’t have a clue how to catch their own bait the way their ancestors did.
There are times, however—when we’re fishing in the wilderness or run out of bait while fishing far from the nearest town, for instance—it sure is handy to know some tricks for wrangling our own fish enticements. And those who know some good bait-catching methods can save lots of money in this day and age when worms often cost a quarter apiece and a dozen minnows may set you back several dollars.
If you’d like to learn the lost art of bait catching, read on. The tips and tricks that follow may seem old fashioned, but they work great in a pinch and can help you cut bait costs tremendously.
A Loaf of Crickets
You probably thought a loaf of fresh-baked bread was only good for one thing—eating. But here’s something else you can use it for. Next time you’re camping a long way from the nearest bait shop, turn an unsliced loaf of bread into a cricket trap that works while you sleep. All you have to do is slice the loaf in half lengthwise, hollow out the middle and then put the two halves back together with some string or rubber bands. Punch a hole from the outside to the inside on one end of the loaf, and then place the bread in a grassy area in the afternoon. When you check it the next morning, it should contain several crickets for fish bait. Pretty simple, huh?
Load Up On Leeches
When you’re fishing for catfish, walleyes or bass, one of the best live baits to use is leeches. Yep, those ugly little bloodsuckers make great fish bait. You may be wondering, though, how do I get leeches? In some states, you can buy them from bait dealers, but in many areas, you’ll have to collect your own. You can find them in ponds with lots of cattails or lily pads, and you can catch them like this. Take a big hunk of fresh beef liver, stuff it in a burlap bag, tie off the end with a piece of rope and toss the bag into shallow water. Leeches will squirm through the loose fabric to reach the bloody liver, and when you come back and pull it in … bingo! You’ve got fish bait.
Cast Nets, Shad and Big-River Bruisers
When you’re fishing a long way from the nearest bait shop, sometimes you need a way to catch your own bait fast. One way to do this is throwing a cast net, a method that’s been used for more than 3,000 years. Throw one in the right spot, and you can bring in dozens of shad or other fish that make great bait for catfish, striped bass and other big sportfish. Throwing one takes some practice, but once you’ve learned how to do it, a cast net is hard to beat for catching fresh bait and lots of it.
Fiddlin’ for Worms
Need some worms for your next backcountry fishing trip? You could dig your own, but that’s a lot of work. Instead, you might want to try an old-time way called “fiddling” or “grunting.” First, you drive a wooden stake in the ground in moist, loamy soil. Then you take an old-fashioned hand saw and rub it back and forth across the top of the stake. An ax head or other piece of metal can be used, too. Rubbing the top of the stake makes the wood vibrate, and the vibrations drive the worms crazy. If you’ve picked a good spot, worms will start popping up out of the ground all around the stake. Instant fish bait and it didn’t cost you a dime.
Rocking in the River
Wade fishing in a small stream away from the city is a really fun way to spend a summer day. Before you start fishing though, you might want to wade around for another reason: to catch some bait. Carefully turn over rocks on the bottom, and look for insect nymphs underneath. There are lots of kinds you might find—hellgrammites, caddisfly larvae, mayfly and stonefly nymphs, and the nymphs of dragonflies and damselflies. And you might catch a crayfish or two while you’re at it. All of these are great baits for catching trout, rock bass, smallmouths and other fish. And because they come right from the stream you’re fishing, they’re sure to be the right bait for catching a whopper.
Lots of anglers never think about it, but freshwater snails, clams and mussels make great baits for redear sunfish, catfish, drum and other fish, especially when you’re fishing in the backcountry where other baits may be hard to find. To gather some, all you have to do is wade around and look for them buried in the bottom or clinging to plants and rocks. Carry a container along to put them in. When fishing with snails, crush them before putting them on a hook. Mussels can be opened with a knife and cut into small pieces. Cast the bait out, let it sink to the bottom and get ready. Fish love mussels and snails like a Frenchman loves escargot. It won’t be long before you’re fighting a nice fish.
A Blanket Full of Hoppers
Live grasshoppers and katydids are among the best baits available. Smaller varieties are irresistible to trout, bluegills and redears, and a big one floating on the water lures everything from bucketmouth bass to pot-bellied catfish. Try this old-fashioned method to catch all the hoppers you need. Spread a fuzzy flannel blanket in a grassy field and drive the hoppers to it. The stickers on the bugs’ feet get caught in the fabric. Just pluck the bait and put it in a cricket cage. For real fun, dispense with sinkers and bobbers when fishing these guys. Use a long pole to flip the hooked bug out on the water like a little dry fly and prepare for action. Dynamite!